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Updated: 6 hours 27 min ago

Net Neutrality anxiety high over proposed changes by FCC Chairman

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 12:00

Many new questions are popping up regarding FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposing to reverse the FCC classification of home and mobile ISPs as common carriers.

There is panic and paranoia over what these changes might mean. I am not getting excited.

I have written quite a bit about proposed internet regulations over the years.  Here is a little historic perspective on the fight for control over telecommunications.

Government controls radio

The Radio Act of 1912 mandated that all radio stations in the United States be licensed by the federal government.

The government took over full control of all radio service for the good of the cause when the United States entered into WWI. All amateur and commercial use of radio ended in the U.S. on April 7, 1917. It became illegal for private U.S. citizens to own an operational radio transmitter or receiver.

The Radio Act of 1927 created The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to regulate radio use "as the public interest, convenience, or necessity" requires.

Expanding power and control beyond radio, to all forms of telecommunications, now falls under The Federal Communications Commission which was created in 1934.

The Federal Communications Commission battles starting in 1934

The Communications Act of 1934 established the basic regulations of communication by wire and radio. The internet went commercial in the mid 1990s and The Telecommunications Act of 1996 addressed the new and emerging technologies.

Since 1996 the categories of Telecommunications Service, Broadcast Services, and Cable Services have become muddied together, rather than being distinctly different services. In 2015, the FCC classified Internet Service Providers as common carriers under The Communications Act of 1934 Title II, for the purpose of enforcing net neutrality.

The term "Net neutrality" was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. The concept is based on legal concept of common carrier which became popular in the United States with the late 1800s with the railroad barons controlling the flow of goods and services.

Any FCC ruling can be challenged in the courts, as it has been in the past.

Telecommunications and Federal Trade Commission antitrust suits

Government antitrust suits have been a part of telecommunications dating back to the early 20th century. In 1913 Kingsbury Commitment was an out-of-court settlement of the government's antitrust challenge of AT&T's monopoly of the phone industry. In 1949 an antitrust lawsuit alleged that AT&T and the Bell System operating companies were using their near-monopoly in telecommunications to attempt to establish unfair advantages.

The government forced the breakup of the Bell System in 1982 into seven different holding companies. Through mergers and acquisitions over the years, four of the seven "Baby Bells" are now part of AT&T and two are part of Verizon.

Any actions by a telecommunications company can be challenged in the courts and the Federal Trade Commission as they have been in the past.

It's nothing new

Any changes made to Net Neutrality regulations in December 2017 will only be one event in an ongoing battle for control of telecommunications that has been waged on many fronts since the early development of radio and telephone services in the early 20th century.

Any changes made will be challenged, and changed again.

Learn more:

Net Neutrality and the myth that the internet is free

 

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Photo: FCC Chairman Genachowski swears in Ajit Pai as a new Commissioner at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC.
May 14, 2012. [Federal Communications Commission Photo]
 

 

 

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